I discovered seven surprising cactus uses and benefits. But let me briefly explain what this plant is and then we can jump into the benefits.
For years, my only knowledge of a cactus was that it was this strange-looking plant found in the desert and would cause great pain if you were careless and somehow managed to get one of its sticky spikes in your skin.
But I’ve since changed my opinion of this humble plant and eat it regularly as part of my diet. What changed my mind? Well, I saw major changes in my health when I started eating it.
What about you? Do you have a health concern that can benefit from the nopal cactus?
No matter what your answer may be, you can learn much from this plant – not only for health but for other uses as well.
What is a Nopal Cactus Plant?
This cactus has a long history in Mexico and the American southwest, but it is becoming more popular and cultivated in other parts of the world as well. If you’ve ever been to an ethnic store specializing in southwestern products, you may have seen a pile of wide, paddle-like green cactus pads. These are nopal cactus pads, and they’re called “nopales,” and the cactus is the nopal cactus.
Nopal Cactus Characteristics
This cactus is more commonly known as the prickly pear cactus, in part, because of the numerous sticky spikes it contains. It has beautiful flowers and an edible, but strange-looking fruit with a hairy skin that must be peeled. In case you’re wondering, the fruit tastes a bit like a melon, and the pads taste like an aloe vera plant or a mild cucumber.
The pads contain lots of sharp thorns, but please don’t let the needles and odd shape scare you away. It is a very nutritious and delicious item to add to your diet.
Nopales can be eaten raw or cooked and they actually look like green peppers when they are diced. You can buy them raw, pickled, canned, frozen and even in capsule form.
Nutritional information of Nopal Cactus
Okay, let’s get into the benefits and uses of this plant.
7 Surprising Cactus Uses and Benefits
1. Helps With Blood Sugar Control
Did you know that cactus plants have been used in Mexico for the treatment of diabetes for decades? According to a study reported in the American Diabetes Association nopal caused a significant decrease in blood glucose values after participants ate the cactus as part of their meal. (1).
According to the Department of Biological Chemistry, UCLA, David Geffen School of Medicine, “The prickly cactus demonstrates the ability to decrease blood glucose levels as well as the hyperglycemic peak during glucose tolerance testing. In addition, Opuntia (prickly pear) has demonstrated the ability to control experimentally induced diabetes.” (2)
Another excellent quality of this cactus is that it is loaded with slowly digestible fiber which is a benefit because fiber slows down the digestion of foods. This has the effect of lowering the Glycemic Index (a measure of how quickly a food raises blood sugar levels) of any foods it is eaten with. The pectin in the cactus also helps to lower blood sugar by decreasing sugar absorption in the stomach and digestive tract.
2. Helps Lower Cholesterol
Cactus leaf has been found to lower cholesterol levels in the body. A medical study found that in just six weeks after eating cactus there was a significant improvement in the cholesterol levels of the participants. (3)
3. Improves Digestion
This cactus is very fibrous as I mentioned earlier. Dietary fiber is very important to the digestive tract. Our bodies need added bulk to help move things through the digestive pathway. Fiber binds with digestive bile and helps it to leave the body as waste instead of being redistributed. And we all know that most of us don’t get enough fiber in our diets. Regular consumption of nopales will help you to get enough fiber in your diet, and you will see improved health, not just digestion.
4. Immune System Helper
Vitamin C bolsters the body’s immune system to help fight against infections. This type of cactus is a star in this category. Vitamin C acts as an antioxidant and reduces the free radical damage throughout the body. (4). This will result in not only a better “inside” but a more youthful “outside” as well.
5. Protects The Liver
Your body is wonderfully made. Contained in each one of us are organs that filter out toxins and wastes that we are exposed to every day of our lives. The liver is one of those organs and it is a major filtering system.
How can we help our livers to work better? Simply by adding more foods to your diet that support better digestion and detoxification. Cactus, in its juiced form, is an excellent beverage to help the liver do its job. Fruits such as cranberries, blueberries, cherries, grapefruit (along with prickly pear cactus) are powerful foods to help your liver to remove toxic elements from your body. (5)
This will result in better performance, you will feel better, and you will look better. After I included cactus juice in my diet, I noticed the whites of my eyes were much whiter – a sign that my liver was in better health.
6. Prickly Pear Seed Oil for Beauty
As if the cactus pads weren’t enough, this plant’s fruit contains seeds that are gaining popularity for the oil it produces. In fact, it’s similar to argan oil, and the color ranges from clear to light green or yellow. It has a nutty smell when it is cold pressed.
This oil is non-comedogenic, so it won’t clog your pores, and it is not heavy so it won’t’ leave you feeling greasy.
Another wonderful quality of this oil is that it is high in linoleic acid and Vitamin E, similar to evening primrose or grapeseed oils.Why is linoleic acid so important? For one thing, our bodies don’t produce it even though it is necessary for brain function, normal growth, and skin and hair health.
This oil can help with beautiful skin and hair. Check out the benefits below:
Skin & Hair Benefits
- Anti-aging skin (firms, lessen the appearance of wrinkles, hydrates, plumbs, heals)
- Lessen rosacea and sunburn
- Improves the appearance of scar tissue
- Nourishes and moisturizes the skin
- Won’t clog pores
- Excellent for problem skin such as acne
- Moisturizes and nourishes the hair
- Adds brilliant shine
7. Cheap Water Filtration System
Imagine eating your cactus meal and using cactus from the same plant to clean your water. Yes, cactus could now become an affordable water purification method for certain parts of the earth’s population. (6)
Scientists have tested the mucilage (the substance produced by the cactus that is gel-like in appearance) in contaminated water. And 98% of the bacteria in the water was removed! Within 15 minutes! How impressive!
So there’s no surprise that this is a discovery that could have far-reaching effects across the world of water purification. And it’s good for the planet because cacti are fast growing and abundant and don’t need large amounts of water to survive.
Based on these findings, the use of cactus in this way is extremely promising and pave the way for a cheap, earth-friendly way to clean water that would be a blessing in developing countries.
How can we eat cactus?
Now that you know the benefits of eating cactus, how do you prepare it? Thankfully, there are many ways to prepare cactus according to your taste and requirements, but some favorite ways are mentioned in the following video below.
Short Version (Summary)
Nopales cactus has a long history in Mexico and the American southwest. It is commonly known as the prickly pear cactus and the entire plant is edible. However, it has lots of needles that must be removed before consuming.
The fruit tastes like melon and the pads taste like a cucumber, and you can eat this plant raw or cooked.
Benefits: Nopal cactus helps with blood sugar control, lowers cholesterol, improves digestion, boosts the immune system, and protects the liver.
Fruit Seed Oil
Another part of the plant that is gaining popularity is the fruit seed oil.
And finally, nopal cactus shows lots of promise as a cheap water filtration system because the sticky gel-like substance contained in the plant is a powerful purifier of bacteria in water by 98%.
So there you have it – seven surprising cactus uses and benefits. I’d like to hear from you – have you ever eaten nopal cactus? If you did, share your experience. Did you see improvements in your health, skin or hair?